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Man O' War Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Man O' War focuses on the problems created when economic and political realities bring human beings into conflict with one another. The desire of Martian workers to earn a decent living and to develop the surface of the planet rather than remaining sealed in the underground tunnels will be expensive. In order to attain their goals, profits from their only product, smush, must increase. Yet, rising costs on an overpopulated Earth will lead to social upheaval, rioting, and possibly even widespread famine. Attempts at negotiation have been futile, leading to the assignment of Benton Hawkes, the most successful negotiator in Earth-bound national and ethnic conflicts, to the project. Diplomacy and negotiation between seemingly irreconcilable opponents are key themes throughout the book, although when diplomacy fails, or when saboteurs are determined to subvert the peace process, violence erupts with sudden brutality.

The larger political issues are reflected in the smaller sphere of Hawkes's personal life. His ranch is adjacent to a mining operation that threatens to destroy the surrounding delicate mountain ecology. Hostilities have broken out between rancher and miner in the past; Hawkes's father, in fact, was killed by a mine disaster, and his personal loss fuels his hatred of mining and strengthens his determination to preserve his land in as natural a state as possible. When a full-scale guerilla assault on his ranch occurs before he even announces his decision to undertake the Mars mission, he knows that there is some hidden connection between mining on Earth and the labor dispute on Mars. He decides that he will not be able to preserve his home until he resolves the larger problems on Mars.

Even at the very small level of Hawkes's private thoughts and feelings, diplomacy and negotiation between irreconcilable opposites dominate the scene. Hawkes sees the double nature of every utterance and gesture directed toward him, wrangling out the positive and negative options of his interactions with others, both public and private. A lifetime of diplomacy has made him distant in spite of his perfect cordiality, and earlier betrayals have left him determined to keep an impenetrable wall between his personal feelings and the interest of others in him. He is attractive to his assistant, Dina Martel, but she will have to hone her own diplomatic skills to reach him; their personal relationship will not develop until the resolution of the larger political issues.